by Lola Danielson, dramaturg
As you can imagine, there are many adaptations of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. There have been numerous plays, cartoons, storybooks, and movies about his stories and life. When it came to choosing a script for their production of The Nightingale, Brigham Young University’s Young Company wanted a unique experience that holds a special message for its audience. Timothy Mason’s adaptation had everything they were looking for.
Timothy Mason adapted The Nightingale in partnership with Seattle Children’s Theatre and Children’s Theatre Company – Minneapolis for their 1975-76 season. Mason has produced plays across the United States and in London, but is best known for his musical adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas. His adaptation of The Nightingale merges elements of dance and storytelling, with the narrator speaking English and the other characters speaking Mandarin Chinese.
Mason weaves proverbs into the script to relay important messages to the audience. A proverb is a popular phrase that expresses truth through messages of common sense or reflections on humanity. Here are a few examples of Chinese proverbs:
- A closed mind is like a closed book; just a block of wood.
- The longer the night lasts, the more our dreams will be.
- Of all the stratagems, to know when to quit is the best.
- Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without one.
- One joy scatters a hundred griefs.
- If you want happiness for a lifetime; help someone else.
While there are many Chinese proverbs, some more bizarre than others (i.e. Play a harp before a cow), Mason uses proverbs that are recognizable to younger audiences in America. Like Hans Christian Andersen, Timothy Mason used his knowledge and experience with China to influence his work, but blended English phrases and culture into the script as well.
The Chinese emperor in Mason’s adaptation of The Nightingale provides sage advice to members of his court when he says, “Do not be deceived by glitter and show. A true voice and a gentle heart are all you will ever need.” The emperor learns a hard lesson throughout the play and finally realizes that friendship is what really matters. He is deceived by the beauty of a golden, mechanical nightingale which leads to him turning away from the real nightingale. It is only when he is faced with death and saved by the real nightingale that he realizes what is really important in life – friendship. The emperor realizes that keeping promises and being kind to others, especially your friends, are more important than anything else mankind can make.
Proverbs may also act as a theme or a moral to the story. While Hans Christian Andersen did not write obvious morals into the end of his stories, there is always something to learn. The same goes for any book you read! Think of your favorite story. What is the moral of that story? What message did you take away? Why is it your favorite story? Is it because of what it taught you? The beauty of a great story is not just the great characters and the exciting plot, but what it teaches us. Great stories make us what to be better. Timothy Mason’s The Nightingale is no different.
I will leave you with another proverb from the play – something to reflect on as you continue through the rest of your week: “Do not be in such a hurry to get there, that you forget why you went.” Enjoy your journey!